Contributed by

Tom Lowe, Director of Membership & External Relations at Collab Group, outlines a strategy for economic recovery and explains why skills and apprenticeship training will be central in our response to this uncertain period following the outbreak of Covid-19.

We are in the middle of perhaps the most profound economic crisis in modern times. The Bank of England is warning about the prospect of unemployment hitting 2.5 million by the end of the year. 

The Job Retention Scheme is due to wind down between now and the Autumn. With it, many workers on furlough could be at risk of losing their jobs. Opportunities in sectors like retail, hospitality and the creative industries have been particularly impacted. The unprecedented decision to enter a national lockdown is having profound implications for people's lives with significant redundancy, furloughing, and reductions in job vacancies. 

In many ways, we are in uncharted territory. How best to respond to a situation that is so pervasive in the damage it has wrought across society? 

The immediate focus for many employers will undoubtedly be stabilising their businesses. But longer-term, significant investment and attention will need to be placed on the skills required to build back the economy. 

Helping young people get into work

Primary effort needs to be placed on helping young people get into work. There are significant concerns about the prospect a massive wave of unemployment facing young people as vacancies contract and unemployment increases. The government has announced a range of measures to try and support young people. These include the new Kickstart programme, new employer incentives for hiring apprentices and extra funding for level 2 and 3 qualifications for 18-19-year olds. But there is little doubt that over the coming months further measures will be required. 

Primary effort needs to be placed on helping young people get into work.

Retraining & upskilling

Equal attention must also be afforded to helping adults to access opportunities to retrain or upskill. This will require the delivery of flexible provision to allow people to refresh their skills. The necessary scale of retraining may be unlike anything in recent history. 

To address the challenges ahead, vital and strengthened partnerships will be required between education and training providers, government, and business. Coordination is needed at the local level to understand where the skills gaps are in local economies and support people to access training. 

The need for flexibility

Our system will need to support individuals to acquire new skills and return to the labour market quickly. Doing so will undoubtedly require greater development and investment in the delivery infrastructure for digital learning, modular study, and short courses. Often, people will have a broad base of transferable skills which should be recognised when assessing suitable pathways to transition into a new role or industry. The current system creates several barriers to this kind of learning, but flexibility for individuals to access training is more important than ever. 

The role of colleges

Support will also need to be premised on a significant expansion of careers advice and employment support services. It is highly likely that if the economic situation becomes more acute, the demand for support is going to rise considerably. We believe that colleges will have a crucial role to play in helping to provide extra capacity to the services provided locally through JobCentre Plus. Equally important will be the part that colleges can play in assessing the skills of individuals to signpost them to new opportunities as they arise in local economies. 

It seems evident that the rate of recovery will vary across sectors. A key part of the role of education and training providers will be to work in collaboration with employers to anticipate not just where the skills gaps are currently, but also what the skills of the future will look like. The pandemic has shown that huge change can occur quickly and unexpectedly. A closer relationship between education and training providers and employers will allow for the creation of longer-term and more strategic approaches to developing skills and talent. Working closely together will be essential to meet the challenges ahead and help to build back the economy over the coming months and years.